The charges being heard at Tokyo District Court center around Kelly’s alleged role in failing to report to Japanese authorities the future compensation of Ghosn, who led Nissan Motor Co. for two decades.
Japanese prosecutors outlined allegations of what they said was a complex and clandestine scheme to pay Ghosn more than the amount the company had reported as compensation. Kelly denied the allegations and said everything that was done was intended to keep Ghosn, whom he called an “extraordinary executive,” at Nissan.
“This was all in the best interests of Nissan,” Kelly said, reading from a statement.
“I deny the allegations. I was not involved in a criminal conspiracy,” said Kelly, whose trial opened on his 64th birthday.
Ghosn was arrested in late 2018 at the same time as Kelly but jumped bail and fled to Lebanon late last year. Since Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan, he may never face trial. But Kelly evinced no rancor over being left to face trial himself.
He recounted how in the late 1990s, when Nissan was losing money, the French automaker Renault bought a stake in Nissan and sent in Ghosn to help turn the ailing Japanese car maker around.
The experts believed Nissan was doomed, Kelly said, but “Mr. Ghosn proved the experts wrong. Under Mr. Ghosn, Nissan became very profitable.”
Top management at Nissan fretted they might lose Ghosn, who occasionally complained he could make more money elsewhere even though he was paid more than most Japanese top executives. They researched lawful methods to provide incentives for him to say, consulting with in-house and outside attorneys to try to retain him.
“The evidence will show that I did not break the law,” said Kelly, who has a law degree and was hired by Nissan in the U.S. in 1988.
Kelly’s head defense lawyer Yoichi Kitamura said little apart from: “My client is not guilty.”
Later on in the session, another attorney gave more details about the defense's position, stressing that some of the alleged schemes to pay Ghosn were considered and not finalized, or never signed by Ghosn. Kelly was not involved in a couple of the schemes, he argued.
Kelly's wife, Dee, who attended the session, defended her husband outside the courthouse. She said her husband had been going over the evidence for the trial to prepare for the case.